Seven prisoners in the Oregon state prison system sued Governor Kate Brown, the Department of Corrections and its directors, Wednesday out of fear that COVID-19 would spread among the prison. The suit asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary restraining order that would require the Department of Corrections to reduce the number of prisoners in order to facilitate better social distancing measures and slow the transmission of the virus.
Plaintiffs argue that their Eighth Amendment rights have been violated because the Department of Corrections and its directors have failed to take precautionary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, thus unreasonably exposing the prisoners to the virus. In addition, plaintiffs argue that as prisoners they are at a greater risk to endure a “severe COVID-19 infection” because “about forty percent of prisoners suffer from chronic health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension and prison conditions accelerate the onset and progression of many chronic conditions associated with aging.”
In ordinary circumstances, each person who contracts COVID-19 can be expected to infect three others on average, but that number may likely be between five and six. Crowded prisons amplify this threat. Prisons have been termed “epidemiological pumps” and “tinderboxes of infectious disease.” Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of prisoners and staff are stack on top of another, unable to move without rubbing shoulders while eating, getting into bed, washing their hands, working or waiting in line for medication.
According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, 101 adult prisoners tested positive for the virus, while 28 staff members had tested positive for the virus.
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